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2008-12-24

Activist, Right Livelihood Winner Asha Hagi Fights for Women’s Role in Somali Peace Process

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Asha Hagi, Founder of Save Somali Women and Children and winner of a 2008 Right Livelihood Award.

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Asha Hagi is the co-founder and current chair of the non-profit, Save Somali Women and Children. During the Somali peace talks in 2000, Hagi founded the Sixth Clan, the clan of women, to complement the traditional five male-dominated Somali Clans. This became the first time women were represented in a peace process in Somalia. Since the Ethiopian invasion two years ago, Hagi has been based in Kenya because of her vocal opposition to the US-backed invasion. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Asha Hagi. She’s the Somali activist who won the Right Livelihood Award this year, co-founder and current chair of the non-profit Save Somali Women and Children. During the peace talks in 2000, Hagi founded the Sixth Clan, the clan of women, to complement the traditional five male-dominated Somali clans. This became the first time women were represented in a peace process in Somalia.

Since the Ethiopian invasion two years ago, Hagi has been based in Kenya because of her vocal opposition to the US-backed invasion.

I interviewed Asha Hagi after she received the Right Livelihood Award in the Swedish parliament. The workers were just folding up the chairs, and we talked about the situation in Somalia. This is Asha Hagi.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about your organization in Somalia, what you’re trying to do?

    ASHA HAGI: Well, my organization is called Save Somali Women and Children, and it is a Somali women’s organization. And we focus more on all issues pertaining the lives of Somali women at this critical time of Somali women’s life. We focus on war, the promotion of peace from women’s perspective and the protection of Somali women’s rights as human rights. We also focus on education and economic empowerment for the women, because believing the two are two fundamental pillars in the women’s political participation.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is the Sixth Clan? What does it mean?

    ASHA HAGI: Well, thank you. That’s a very pertinent question. The Sixth Clan is the dream of Somali women to have a full identity in order to participate fully in the peace and political process. And the idea came when we Somali women were excluded from an important Somali peace and reconciliation conference in 2000.

    AMY GOODMAN: Who excluded you?

    ASHA HAGI: The clan elders, the clan leaders excluded us, because we were women, and we didn’t represent any clan, because we are in a patriarchal and patrilineal society. And in our society, women have neither the responsibility to protect the clan while at war nor the right to represent the clan at the negotiation table. Because of that notion, they excluded us women in participating at the peace and reconciliation conference, because the participation of that conference was clan-based, and we women didn’t have a formal room and role in the traditional clan structure.

    When we were frustrated and sidelined and pushed to the wall, then we came up with that idea of forming our own identity. Actually, it was the vision, courage and the persistence of my organization, Save Somali Women, under my leadership. It was a well advanced or progressive idea. People could not understood that, including the women. But we managed to form our own identity. Of course, there were a price — a huge price to pay in creating and coming up something innovative, something new, that —-

    AMY GOODMAN: What was the price?

    ASHA HAGI: The price was, we were ridiculed, humiliated, sidelined, sometimes threatened, called names. And we became subject to all kinds of abuse. Some of them were using, you know, a lot of negative words to us, that we were foreign-manipulated elements and promoting Western values and morals. And the case was not that. It was purely about our own rights. It was purely about demanding our rightful space.

    AMY GOODMAN: The US recently backed Ethiopia’s invasion into Somalia. What are your feelings about that?

    ASHA HAGI: Well, Ethiopian invasion in Somalia, actually, whatever the motivation behind that was, I don’t think that it was a successful operation. It was not a successful mission, because the Somali people negatively reacted to that, and they took up the arms against Ethiopia, and that revived the hostility and the adversity and the hatred between the two sisterly nations, the two sisterly people of the two nations. And we never wanted that. And it is a pity to see the sufferance of the innocent Somali unarmed civilians in their own homeland. It is also a pity to see, you know, the countless casualties, the countless death and destruction and devastation on both sides. So it is very pity. It is unacceptable.

    AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Asha Hagi, everyone is focused on Somalia because of the pirates and the pirating of the Saudi oil ships. Your thoughts?

    ASHA HAGI: Well, we have been appealing the humanity in Somalia for the past eighteen years or so, and especially for the past two years that the Somali people have been going through a very difficult moment, a very critical time in our history. And Somali people were in a dire need of humanitarian assistance. But the world has neglected Somalia. And I always said that Somalia is a neglected case of a humanity.

    Unfortunately, the international attention is now on Somalia, because they are after maybe their own interest, when it comes to Somali water. So Somali people believe that Somali waters are more important than the Somali people. It is inhuman. As Somalis, people like me, the activists and the human rights, you know, promoters, we are against all forms of criminal act. We are not supporting the pirates. But, in fact, it is a negative response. The world is responding when their interests were somehow somewhere hit, but were not responsive where the humanity was crying and dying in there, where the Somali children and their mothers were dying of hunger, malnutrition and lack of proper medical facilitation. So, it is a unfair kind of response.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what you think needs to happen?

    ASHA HAGI: Well, I think the Somali crisis we have -— Somalia is in a huge crisis, be it political, humanitarian and security crisis. And I believe the answer to Somali crisis is to give peace a chance and to create an effective Somali government that will enable to protect the lives and the rights of the Somali people, as well as the lives and the rights of the people outside world who are, you know, somehow relating to Somalia or using the Somali waters. So I think the answer is to have a very effective mechanism that will give the Somali people the services that they deserve. That will restore the lost dignity of Somalia.

    And the international community should be supportive to that. If the Somali crisis continues, I believe it will not be a Somali issue, as it is the case right now. It is increasingly becoming an international issue. So I believe that it is a collective responsibility. It’s a collective interest for all of us to contribute positively toward the salvation of Somali nation and toward the restoration of Somali state.

AMY GOODMAN: Asha Hagi, founder of Save Somali Women and Children. I spoke with her just after she won this year’s Right Livelihood Award. We were speaking in the Swedish parliament the same week that the Nobel Prizes were being awarded in Stockholm and Oslo.

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